Guest Article

Repatriating Elian Gonzalez: What's Hitler Got To Do With It?

January 26, 2000
By Ronald H. Glantz

Fragilecologies Guest ArticleI have come to the realization that history is generational. I do not mean to imply that historical events are not intentionally carried from one generation to another, but rather that some are just forgotten on the back burners of our minds, if they were known at all. I recently heard a talk show host state that we would never have sent a Jewish child back to Hitler's Germany so why send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba. How very simplistic. How historically inaccurate.

Lets examine this statement from a historical event of a previous generation. We not only sent a Jewish child back to certain death in the concentration camps, but we, the United States, chose to look the other way when an entire ship full of Jewish men, women, and children were sent back to Nazi Germany from Cuba.

On May 13, 1939, more than 900 Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany boarded and sailed on the St. Louis, a German transatlantic luxury liner. The ship was headed for Cuba where landing documents had been issued by the Cuban Government. Unbeknownst to the Jewish men, women and children aboard the St. Louis, their voyage was doomed.

Upon arrival in Cuba, May 27,1939, its President, President Federico Laredo Bru decreed all landing certificates invalid. None of the 900 Jewish passengers were allowed to disembark the ship. Right-wing Cuban newspapers at the time announced the ships pending arrival and demanded an end to the admission of Jews to Cuba. The denial of the landing visas went around the world. The US press sympathetically told the story of the refugees plight with few suggestions that these Jewish refugees be admitted to the United States. The United States would not relax its immigration laws to allow the passengers to land here. Congress allowed to die, in committee, the Wagner-Rogers Bill which could have saved these passengers and 20,000 additional Jewish children from extermination.

The story of the voyage of the St. Louis is longer than there is space to write here, but the point is the same; we forget. We forget the past all to quickly. We forget that politics and politicians, whether right or left have agendas. We forget that politicians do what is most expedient instead of what is right. We forget the political pandering and posturing that swirls around us everyday. The case of the Cuban child Elian Gonzalez, is not the same as the voyage of the St.Louis. This child will not be harmed if sent back to his father, but rather grow up with the love of that father and his grandparents. No, he may not have all of the material things that we seem to crave, nor may he have all the opportunity America has to offer, but he will have his father and grandparents who love him. There are many children in this country who do not have material goods, opportunity or love; what do we do about them? The boy should go home.

If you have any comments or feedback about Repatriating Elian Gonzalez: What's Hitler got to do with it? please contact Ronald H. Glantz at his email address

Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis
Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis
Photo credits: Herbert Karliner Collection
St. Louis in Havana, Cuba
St. Louis in the port of Havana, Cuba.
Photo credits: U.S. National Archives

Fragilecologies Home Page | Full List of Articles